Shell-Shocked WVU Looking for Bounce Back Win

MORGANTOWN — Little Bo Peep lost her sheep and needed help in finding them.

As funny as it may appear, veteran coach Bob Huggins and the fans of the No. 15-ranked Mountaineers (16-5 overall, 5-3 Big 12) have lost an important ingredient to its success this season and have only a short period of time to find it if they want to avoid a third straight loss.

Other than the play of sophomore Sagaba Konate, the inside game has been inconsistent at best and was lacking in Saturday night’s 83-76 loss to the University of Kentucky before a crowd of 15,835 at the Coliseum and a nationally televised ESPN audience.

“You have to remember,” Huggins said during his postgame press conference. “We were holding our own on the boards in the first half and then they outrebounded us by 16 in the second half. That happens because their bigs wanted it (the ball) more than our bigs.”

Konate, who saw only 23 minutes of action due to foul problems and a sore knee, did his part against the Wildcats’ talented frontcourt of freshmen Nick Richards, Kevin Knox and PJ Washington. The Mali native scored 13 points on 6 of 9 from the field and 1 of 3 from the line, hauled down a team-high six rebounds, blocked seven shots and added an assist and a steal.

However, the remainder of WVU’s inside game — starters Lamont West and Wesley Harris and reserves Teddy Allen, Esa Ahmad, Maciej Bender and Logan Routt — were a combined 3 of 17 from the field (0 of 3 from the arc) with 17 rebounds, two steals, one assist and two turnovers.

“Other guys need to be more aggressive,” senior guard Jevon Carter said. “They got to stop worrying about making mistakes and just play. It (our offense) got pretty stagnant in the second half.”

A theme that has been played over and over to the dismay of WVU’s coach and fans during its recent 1-4 streak

“We’ve seen this before,” Huggins said. “We ran offense in the first half and we scored. We stopped running offense in the second half and we stopped scoring.”

Numbers rarely lie, and they really tell the tale over the Mountaineers’ last five games.

As hoped the return of junior Esa Ahmad after a 16-game NCAA-mandated suspension was immediate as the Ohio native tallied 18 points and six rebounds in a 72-71 loss at Texas Tech, and followed that performance up with 15 points and five boards in a 71-66 home loss to Kansas.

Since that time the 6-foot-8 forward has accounted for only eight points and 12 rebounds — being held scoreless in an 82-73 loss at TCU and in Saturday’s perplexing seven-point loss to UK.

The numbers for West and Harris aren’t much better — West is averaging 4.2 points and 3.2 rebounds while Harris has been scoring at a 4.1 norm and pulling down three caroms per game.

Even Allen’s performance has been far from what the freshman provided in his first two Big 12 games — eight total points on 1 of 10 shooting and six rebounds in three games. The first-year Mountaineer missed the Kansas and Texas games for ‘attitude’ reasons.

Making matters worse — as if they could be worse — has been the play of Bender and Routt as the duo has combined for 18 rebounds and only six points during the recent slump.

And, it doesn’t get any easier for the Mountaineers as they travel to Ames, Iowa, tonight for a 7 p.m. tipoff against an Iowa State team (11-9, 2-6 Big 12) desperately in need of a win of any kind after a 68-45 thumping at the hands of No. 22 Tennessee.

Steve Prohm’s third ISU team features a mixture of experience and youth as freshmen Lindell Wigginton (16.2 ppg) and Cameron Lard (12.1) have meshed well with senior guard Donovan Jackson (15.5) and junior Nick Weller-Babb (12.2) while sophomore Solomon Young (6.4) rounds out the probable starting five.

“Just get ready for Iowa State,” sophomore Chase Harler said. “We always want to win. We’re still in the race for the league, which is definitely our goal.”